Every Student Succeeds Act: What It Means for Music Educators

On December 9, 2015 Congress voted in favor of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It is the seventh reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), originally passed in 1965, which is the national education law that commits to equal opportunities for all students. In the new law, music is mentioned as a separate, stand alone subject for the first time in ESEA’s history. This is a major win for music education as ESSA provides opportunities to expand access to music education nationwide.

How ESSA Differs from No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), passed in 2001, was the previous reauthorization of the ESEA. It supported a standards-based education reform based on the idea that setting high standards and setting measurable goals could improve individual student’s results. NCLB gave the federal government a greater role in public education through annual testing, annual academic progress, teacher qualifications and changes in funding.

By 2015, NCLB was receiving so much criticism from all sides in Congress that they voted to strip away national regulations and allow states and local governments more control. ESSA retains the annual standardized testing present in NCLB, but transfers accountability to the states. This allows for more flexible standards and accountability systems. Instead of simply using test scores on the “core subjects” of English and math to determine success, states can choose multiple progress measures for schools, including student engagement, parental engagement and school culture/climate. ESSA also provides a new definition of a well-rounded education.

Music Included in Definition of a Well-Rounded Education

In Title VIII, Section 8002 of ESSA, the definition of a well-rounded educations is as follows:

“The term  ‘well-rounded education’ means courses, activities, and programming in subjects such as English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, career and technical education, health, physical education, and any other subject, as determined by the State or local educational agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and educational experience.’’

This is the first time in the 50-year history of ESEA that music is listed separately. All subjects listed under this definition are entitled to funding under ESSA. Schools can use federal money to address any deficiencies they have in the subject areas defined as part of a well-rounded education.

Title I of ESSA focuses on improving basic programs. This means that Title I funds can be used to supplement state and local support for a well-rounded education. Schools with fewer resources can now improve their ability to use supplemental funding for curricula outside of the “core subjects” including music and the arts.

Other areas of funding include Title IV grants, which support student academic enrichment by supplementing programs for well-rounded educational opportunities, such as after school programs that include music. Local education agencies must assess if they are providing well-rounded educational opportunities and develop a plan to address areas needing support.

ESSA also states that teachers, including music educators, can use funds from Title I, Title II (teacher preparation and development) or Title IV for professional development.

ESSA’s flexible accountability measures now go beyond standardized test scores. They include student engagement, parental engagement and school culture/climate, which are much better suited to measuring the success of music education.

Finally, the ESSA language strongly discourages removing students from classes, including music, for remedial instruction. It encourages local education agencies to think creatively about how to help students in areas of difficulty without pulling them out of the classroom. Pulling students away from subjects they enjoy, like music, could feel like punishment, which does not foster a positive learning environment.

It is important to know that this does not make music a required subject. ESSA expects states to make an effort to expose students to a wide variety of subjects and it gives states flexibility in determining how to measure progress in these areas.

The ESSA law will take effect on August 1, 2016.

What about Common Core?

ESSA encourages rigorous and challenging state standards, but does not require Common Core. Under ESSA, the U.S. Department of Education is forbidden from requiring any set of standards from any state. It will be up to the individual states to decide if they wish to continue using Common Core for math and reading. The new act is clear that there will be no direct links between Common Core and federal education law going forward.

What Does This Mean for My Music Program?

Just because ESSA allows for greater opportunities for music education doesn’t mean it is going to happen automatically. You, the music educators, need to get involved. Join a committee at the district level to make sure music is represented when there are discussions about funding. Teach the parents of students in your program about the new law. Raise awareness in your communities about the importance of music education. State and local advocacy are still essential to getting more students access to music education. But now, thanks to ESSA, the future of music education looks more promising than ever before. Let’s chalk one up in the win column for music education!

Classroom Resource Ideas

  • Music Express magazine: Get on board the Music Express with this essential resource for general music classrooms and elementary choirs. Join John Jacobson and friends as they provide you with creative, high-quality songs, lessons and recordings that will keep students engaged and excited! Issues come with teacher guide, CD-ROM and 30 student magazines.
  • Flash Cards and Games
  • See all Classroom Materials at Sheet Music Plus
  • Have a favorite classroom resource you use? Let us know in the comments!

Further ESSA Resources

The National Association for Music Education is one of the foremost advocates for music education in the United States and played an important role in getting music to stand alone in the new federal law. They have developed several helpful resources explaining ESSA, including an Implementation Toolkit for music educators. Visit NAfMe’s page on Everything ESSA now!

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